Former Israeli President Pleads Not Guilty

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CBNNews.com - JERUSALEM, Israel - On Tuesday, former Israeli President Moshe Katsav reversed his June 28 decision to accept a plea bargain on charges of sexual misconduct, preferring a chance to clear his name by standing trial.

"I want to fight for my innocence. I want to put an end to the persecution and fight so the truth will emerge," the former president told the three-judge panel, led by Deputy Court President Shulamit Dotan.

"I am choosing the difficult path and I understand its implications," he said. "I have been thinking about this for a long time and it was finalized in my mind today," Katsav said.

Not surprisingly, Attorney General Menachem Mazuz reacted vigorously.

"Katsav's conduct is shocking," a written statement read. "At any rate, it can be assumed that the implications of his decision are clear to him. As you recall, the state said in its response to the High Court of Justice that it had clearly leaned toward filing an indictment that would have included the most serious charges that he was suspected of, despite the difficulties we foresaw," Mazuz wrote.

"Now that the plea bargain has been canceled, the state prosecution will shortly make the decision that is unavoidable under the circumstances," the attorney general wrote.

With the rejection of the plea bargain, the prosecution will likely add rape to the charges against Katsav.

Women's groups were happy with Katsav's decision to stand trial. As he exited the courtroom, dozens of women waiting outside shouted at him, calling him a rapist and other similar names.

Member of Knesset (MK) Zahava Gal-On (Meretz) called on Mazuz to turn the prosecution over to State Prosecutor Moshe Lador.

"Mazuz has failed ethically, professionally and morally by signing the shameful plea bargain with Katsav and defending it at the High Court, thus taking part in slandering and defaming the complainants," Gal-On said.

Moshe Meroz, attorney for the key witness in the case, who claimed in the draft indictment to have been raped twice by Katsav, will now testify at the trial.

"She [my client] would have preferred not to have to take the witness stand, but she is absolutely ready to do so," Meroz said.

Following Tuesday's hearing, Avigdor Feldman, one of Katsav's three-member legal team, explained his decision to renege on the plea bargain.

"The president's decision took shape during the past month after he asked us once more whether the evidence proved his guilt. We reexamined it and told him that it did not. We believe that on the basis of the evidence, Katsav is innocent. This was the same conclusion we reached before the hearing. Then too, we argued that Katsav was innocent. From the moment we signed the plea bargain , he has been consumed by regret," Feldman said.

"We did not initiate the petitions, and the fact is that all of the justices were critical of the plea bargain," he said. "Listen, everyone is shouting, 'We want a trial,'" he said, referring to the angry protestors outside the courtroom. "So now they'll have a trial," he said.

Sources: The Jerusalem Post, YNet news, Haaretz

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